How Travel Renews Your Writing Life

“I have conquered an empire but I have not been able
to conquer myself.”

—Peter the Great
(pictured above is Peter’s summer home near St. Petersburg,
or Peterhof Grand Palace)

I just returned from a week’s vacation, cruising the waterways around Scandinavia and Russia. (Click here to browse all photos.)

If you’ve been hanging around No Rules very long, you probably know I have a torrid love affair with travel—as well as a paradoxical relationship with it.

On the one hand, travel is an opportunity to soul search. You get far enough away from everyday life to gain perspective. And, as a writer, you have an opportunity to observe and train your eye to see the details that other people overlook.

For instance, in the picture above (Peterhof Palace), the majesty is hard to miss. These shots are easy to take, but for me have little writerly joy in them.

The daily-life details, the texture of a place, is more what I seek, like this decoration on a lamp post in Copenhagen.

Travel is one of the first things I’d recommend to any writer in need of a reset button. And you don’t have to write when you travel—just observe. Train yourself to take pictures of details important to you. Look for and build on themes.

All this contradicts another tenet I hold onto, from Proust:

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

This voyage comes to me easiest when I return home from travel. I’ve always seen my neighborhood, my city differently after a trip. It becomes more precious and unique.

But having new eyes can also happen when I have new people in my daily life, when I can re-envision or re-think a place through their eyes, and what they would see specifically or differently.

That’s why I never tire of re-watching movies and TV shows if I can share them with someone new.

For more about travel, I can’t recommend highly enough Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel. It’s on my Top 10 list of books everyone must read.

If you have ambitions to be a travel writer, then you should also get Travel Writing, 2nd edition, by L. Peat O’Neil.

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9 thoughts on “How Travel Renews Your Writing Life

  1. Melissa

    I love this post…I couldn’t agree more that travel is a great inspiration for writing and it also trains your eye to see your own piece of the world in a new light when you return. However, I hate the post-travel blahs. They normally last a few days to a week, when my mind is still on vacation mode or just sitting in images gleaned from "there". To me, travel is a must. It renews my soul. I sometimes feel guilty that I don’t write much when I travel, but I do feel inspired after the fact (sometimes I write, sometimes I don’t…but the inspiration is there! ha)
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Erika Robuck

    "This voyage comes to me easiest when I return home from travel. I’ve always seen my neighborhood, my city differently after a trip. It becomes more precious and unique."

    I love the idea of looking at the every day with new eyes. That’s great advice for a writer.

    I’m glad you’re home safe. Thank you for letting me live vicariously through your photos.

  3. D. G. Hudson

    Liked this post and your thoughts on travelling. Interesting photos, too. We’re planning a trip later this year which will give me some info I need for a book idea I’m nurturing — I’ll be taking notes & photos to refer to.

    Best of all was your statement that you see your own neighborhood differently when you return. I’m usually glad to return home, but I do believe that these experiences enrich us in multiple ways (tolerance, culture, etc).

    One of the books you mentioned, ‘Travel Writing, 2nd edition, by L. Peat O’Neil’, I have in my writing library. I bought it a couple of years back while taking a course via Writers Digest online instruction, and was pleased to see you mention it.

    Enjoy your blog.

  4. DanaB

    ‘Reset button’ is a good way of putting it! Love the Proust quote, too.
    My teenage son is a writer and he often says ‘sure I’ll go along–for the experience, ya know’.
    Good post, thanks for sharing!

    ~~

  5. Cathy Shouse

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve never been able to top the experience of spending 9 weeks in London, then a 3-week tour of the continent, while in college. It was life-changing. Thanks for relieving me of my guilt over wanderlust and the expense of paying for it. 🙂 It’s in my job description, right up there with reading every book I can get my hands on!

  6. Cheri Laser

    Welcome home, Jane! And thanks for the perspective. We all need to be reminded to "change our seats" periodically in order to get a different view of the field.

    On the home front where I am, though, the daily rhythm was a little off without your input.

  7. Masha

    Next to the fun of taking photos, I feel capturing moments in prose is exhilarating. Another great travel writing book is "Globejotting" by Dave Fox.

  8. Marisa Birns

    Oh everything you say here resonates! Whenever I return from a trip, I feel rejuvenated – changed for the better. And, yes, while seeing the majesty and beauty of the "big" picture of a place, it’s the little details that make it distinct and unique.

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